IN times of peril, it is not unusual for those in power — or those seeking it — to resort to demagoguery and scare-mongering.
The usual targets are minority communities or ostracised groups, which make for easy prey due to their supposed ‘otherness’.
A classic example of this sort of behaviour came in the aftermath of the recent Orlando rampage, with Republican presumptive presidential contender Donald Trump demonising the whole Muslim community for the crime of one individual.
In fact, Mr Trump has, throughout his campaign, taken aim at Muslims (and others, such as Mexicans) in an effort to appeal to the lowest common denominator. However, as opposed to this divisive trumpery, US President Obama has taken a bold, inclusive stance, following the massacre in Florida.
While speaking during a nationally televised broadcast recently, the US president said that Muslims should not be made to feel that “the West hates them” or that the US government is betraying them.
Mr Obama added that in the past, out of fear, the American government had ostracised citizens, which he considered “shameful”. Mr Trump responded to this statesmanship by declaring Obama “a lousy president”.
Indeed, in the aftermath of acts of terrorism or mass violence, what public figures say has a great deal of influence. There are reports of Muslims experiencing verbal abuse in Florida after the club shooting.
When public figures engage in verbally bashing minorities or groups, bigots in society are given the green signal to go after vulnerable groups. History has seen this scenario play itself out countless times.
We in Pakistan have also witnessed whole communities hounded because of offences — real or perceived — committed by individuals. Conversely, when leaders respond in measured tones, it sends the message that while the guilty shall be brought to justice, entire communities will not be ostracised.
In the current global climate of hate, intolerance and terror, it is the latter message that must be highlighted, particularly by those in positions of power and influence.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2016